A Guide to American BBQ Sauce Styles

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021
little bowls of sauce

Barbecue sauce may seem like a basic ingredient in cooking, but did you know there are several different kinds of barbecue condiments? Ingredients like vinegar, mustard, and tomato have all come to represent barbecue in the United States. A sauce on its own isn’t enough to save poorly cooked food, however, it can perfect the flavors of well-made cuisine.  The different varieties of this condiment are most popular within specific regions of America and can be classified by their main ingredient. Here is a look at four different types of barbecue sauces and what meats they best compliment. First, let’s discuss a little about barbecue itself.

Barbecue 101

Perhaps the main issue people run into with BBQ condiments is mistaking barbecue with grilling. Using sauce during the grilling process will make it burn, however during barbecue it will not. The difference is that grilling is a high-temperature type of cooking, where true barbecue uses a low temperature and takes several hours. There are different condiments used in different types of barbecue, even some styles using no sauce at all. The commonality of all barbecue is that it is usually cooked at 250 degrees, and at that temperature, the sugars used in the sauce will not burn.

Tomato-Based Sauce

The most typical type of barbecue sauce is tomato-based. The tomato in these concoctions is almost always in the form of ketchup, although there are exceptions to that. Tomato-based BBQ condiments became the most common in America during the middle 20th century. This type of sauce counterpoints sweet tones with vinegar and often has some sort of pepper.  It is used all over the USA but is most prevalent in St. Louis, Memphis, and Kansas City. It is also most popular in Texas, where beef is king. Tomato and vinegar condiments partner perfectly with chopped beef or a full rack of pork ribs. That being said, it is the most widely versatile barbecue sauce and will pair well with most meats.

 

Vinegar-Based Sauce

Barbeque sauces with vinegar as their main ingredient, like the North Carolina style, are thinner than their tomato counterparts and are commonly of a spicy variety.  Basically, it is made with white or cider vinegar and dried red pepper flakes, creating a zesty yet sour baste that cuts through the fat and smoke of classic BBQ. Vinegar based condiments are a perfect accompaniment to pork, as Carolina barbecue favors that type of meat. Not all vinegar-based sauces are totally lacking ketchup. While Eastern Carolina sauce uses no tomato product, the Western Carolina alternative, called Piedmont or Lexington, does have a little ketchup in it—though not enough to make it thick. This type is still full of vinegar flavor, is very thin, and is a bit pinker than its Eastern counterpart.

 

Mustard-Based Sauce

You are likely to find mustard-based barbecue sauces in the Carolinas and Georgia.  This yellow concoction is perfect for this area of the United States, where pork is the favored barbecued meat. Sugar, spices, vinegar, and of course mustard are used to create this type of BBQ sauce, which adds a savory, sour note that works best with the mildly sweet taste of pork. This mustard condiment is much more unusual than the typical tomato barbecue sauce but is equally best offered on the side. Excessive “Carolina Gold” will make the most outstanding BBQ a sour mess.

Mayonnaise-Based Sauce

 Mayonnaise based barbecue sauce might seem like the most unlikely style, but in actuality, mayonnaise is simply oil and vinegar emulsified, so it makes sense as an addition to barbecue. Made famous in Alabama, the white mixture is made from mayonnaise, vinegar, lemon juice, and black pepper. The consistency can be thick or thin. Like mustard sauce, this style hasn’t become a country-wide standard, but the blend of pepper, tang, and creamy, flavors have sealed its prominence as a regional trademark.  This type of BBQ condiment pairs best with smoked chicken rather than beef or pork. In Alabama, whole chickens are immersed into barrels of white sauce, allowing it to completely cover the meat and marinate.

 

The Sauce is Boss

Different meat cuts and cooking procedures are signifiers of regional barbecue, but the sauces best characterize the history of America’s love affair with this food. All over the country, especially in the south,  barbecue fans are devoted to their favorite condiments. We invite you to check our famous homemade barbecue sauce here at Dyer’s BBQ.  Be sure to visit us at our locations in Amarillo and Pampa.